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Exploring new opportunities in agroforestry: workshop session at the UK Organic Congress

A lively session at the Organic Research Centre's Organic Congress in the UK last week explored new business opportunities for agroforestry systems, with some really great practical examples of making agroforestry pay and a range of products and business models introduced that farmers may not have previously considered.

Subjects covered included starting a firewood business from coppicing field boundary hedges; plans for a diverse agroforestry system that will supply raw materials for cosmetics and an agroforestry nut tree nursery. UK AFINET RAIN member, Charlotte from Lush explained the massive range of ingredients that are used in Lush products from birch water to charcoal to nut oils and chickweed which can be provided via agroforestry. Ross’s hedge coppicing firewood business outlined in detail acts as a hub for wider local network of hedge coppicing and generates interest from neighbours.

The nut tree nursery started by Ella as part of Schumacher college’s agroforestry system helps to meet the growing demand for nut trees from agroforestry systems and helps provide financial support for the rest of the 5 acre horticulture alley cropping system.

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Agroforestry offers viable (and additional) rural business opportunities by diversifying the range of products that can be produced, helping buffer against crop failures under climate change.
  • There are existing gaps in the market for some agroforestry products, especially more specialised tree varieties and products.
  • Nut trees are not a short term cash crop, the first yields cannot be expected for a number of years byt they can help build resilience into the future.